Fazil Say
Fazil Say (Reuters)

A prominent Turkish pianist and composer who had been charged for insulting Islam and offending Muslims in comments he made on Twitter, has received a suspended jail sentence on Monday.

The world-renowned pianist Fazil Say, who has performed with the New York Philarmonic and has been an ambassador to the EU, has been given a 10-month suspended jail term for his series of tweets deemed blasphemous by conservative Muslims, including one citing a thousand-year-old poem.

"We reject the charges against us but the decision is the court's," the musician's lawyer Meltem Akyol told the court.

"We believe that there is no intentional act of denigration or mockery" in Say's tweets, she said.

"Honestly we were not expecting this ruling, and all I can say is, both legally and for the country, it's a sad decision," she told Reuters.

The suspended sentence means that the pianist will not be jailed as long as he did not commit a similar crime within five years.

In the first tweet, Say, 43, joked about a muezzin who made a call to prayer that lasted only 22 seconds.

"Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table?" he tweeted. Raki is a strong Turkish spirit made from aniseed

In another tweet, the pianist quoted 11-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam who ridiculed the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be pious.

"You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two hours await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?" he tweeted.

A harsh critic of Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan's moderate conservative government, Say is the country's leading composer and pianist. He said devout Muslims in government represented "a catastrophe" for Turkey.

An online petition to support him recorded 8,000 signatures and many members of the Turkish and international intellectual community have backed him.

The European Union has long urged Turkey to develop its record on freedom of speech if it wants to become a member of the economic union.

In a report on Turkey, the EU reprimanded Ankara for "recurring infringements of the right to liberty and security and to a fair trial, as well as of the freedom of expression".

Erdogan himself was imprisoned in 1998 when he was mayor of Istanbul for reciting a poem that a court deemed was an incitement to religious hatred. He served six months in jail.

The poem he had read contained the verses; "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers."